Friday, June 15, 2012
Take a Breath
An Original Inspirational Message
I was raised Roman Catholic … and left the Roman Catholic faith when I left home. I have experimented with various other Christian denominations and non-Christian spiritual paths and disciplines, until I found a home in the Unitarian Universalist tradition and Buddhism. I learned that Unitarian Universalism isn’t an either or religion; it’s an and religion. When I was Roman Catholic my choices were limited to being Roman Catholic or being something else. As a Unitarian Universalist Buddhist my choices are to be Unitarian Universalist and Buddhist and Native American shamanistic and Taoist …That works for me and it feels like home.
I just thought you should know a little about my personal spiritual journey because I think it is important. What is most important isn’t where I’ve started or where I’ve found myself today, but that I am a committed seeker; willing and able to ask questions that may have difficult answers or may have no clear answers at all. That is the kind of searching that I believe cultivates a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.
More than anything else, I think that people who are on a spiritual journey are seeking inspiration. We live in a time where true inspiration seems to be a very limited commodity. There is a lot of trivial inspiration on the television and in books, but precious little authentic inspiration. To the point that I believe many people don’t even remember or know what constitutes true inspiration anymore. People want a spiritual life but don’t know where to go, what to do, and how to recognize it if they accidentally stumble into it.
The root of the Spirit can be found in the Greek word that is translated both as wind and breath. The Eastern concept of chi is also translated as wind, breath, or power. This seems like a good place to start.
But you know I recognize this word inspiration from my previous life. Before I was a social worker I was an athletic trainer. In fact, my formal education is in the health arena. I once taught biology and anatomy at the college level. I wasn’t a very good teacher, but I was a good student and I remember about inspiration.
Inspiration is also the word that means taking a breath. That vital act of transferring oxygen from the ambient atmosphere into our lungs and ultimately into our blood stream is an act essential to all animal life. Breathing is the very essence and evidence of life.
That concept of taking a breath really does not accurately describe the process by which oxygen enters our lungs. Taking a breath makes it sound like it is a much more active process than it really is. In truth, we don’t take a breath as much as we receive a breath. Allow me to explain.
In your chest there are two large sacks for collecting and transferring gasses – the lungs. Attached to the bottom of the lungs is a large muscle, the diaphragm. When the diaphragm contracts it pulls the lungs downward; lengthening them; and creating a negative space. Ambient air enters the nose and/or mouth and fills that negative space.
That air travels to little small sacks in the lungs that have a permeable membrane. Those sacks exchange gasses with blood flowing around them by the simple process of osmosis; gasses move from an area of higher concentration to an area of lower concentration. Oxygen, rich in the air in the lungs transfers to the blood vessels and carbon dioxide, rich in the blood vessels, transfers to the little sacks to be expelled. When the diaphragm relaxes the lungs contract creating a positive space and the oxygen depleted air is expelled. It is elegantly simple and beautiful, and we do it hundreds and hundreds of times a day, usually without giving it any thought whatsoever. It is a miracle of life.
I like the idea of creating negative space; space that cries to be filled with something of substance. And it happens naturally because we create the space to allow it to happen. It is, I believe, the same for our spiritual lives. We become spiritual, or more accurately, we recognize our spirituality; we are filled with Spirit because we create the space for the Spirit to fill us. It is not so much about what we do as it is about making sure there is a space in our lives to be filled. And this is what I think inspiration really is.
Imagine a balloon. You can fill that balloon with air and as it fills you can see it expanding; changing; becoming bigger and different. Sometimes you require assistance to get your balloon filled. You might turn to a neighbor and ask for help. That is perfectly appropriate. We all need help sometimes, why not with one of the most vital and important aspects of a meaningful life?
And once you have that balloon all filled up you can tie a knot in the end and capture that inspiration. It becomes all yours. You can do with it what you like. Your big, round, shiny balloon advertises to everyone all around you that you have been inspired. We can make our inspiration our gift to each other, our family and friends, our community, the universe.
And yet, this isn’t quite right either. This way we all have our individual packets of inspiration trapped; isolated. They are pretty to look at, but that inspiration is separated from us by a non-permeable membrane. Nothing gets out; nothing gets in. There is no way for our inspiration to touch or nurture our family and friends, our community, or the universe. No, no, this is just all wrong; but it is what happens a lot of time. We are so wrapped up in our own search for inspiration, we work so hard to get it and then we want to keep it to ourselves. Capturing our inspiration required so much effort that we don’t want to let it go.
If we could just manage to release that inspiration into the world imagine what might happen. How magnificent that might be to see all that inspiration co-mingling, to use Thich Nhat Han’s phrase, inter-being with all of us.
And so we can imagine that we want to release that inspiration back out into the ambient air, our environment. We could try to untie that knot, but you know how difficult that can be. There is an easier way. We could pop our balloons. It is noisy; it’s messy; and sometimes we need some help with this part of the process too. But that’s the way that a spiritual life goes; sometimes it’s challenging; sometimes it makes a lot of noise and a big mess; and sometimes we need some help.
But once we’ve popped our balloons and released our inspiration into the world invariably it makes us smile and laugh. Perhaps we laugh at the noise or mess. Perhaps we laugh because it reminds us of our childhoods. Perhaps we laugh because it’s fun. But we all know that it feels good.
And that, I submit, is a very good metaphor for a spiritual life. We are spiritual beings living a physical existence and all we have to do to recognize and celebrate and share that spirituality is to make enough space; take a breath. Take a breath; breathe deeply and often; and be inspired. Miracles can happen.